Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Swedes Have Nothing on Milton

A glossy magazine-style illustrated Bible from Swedish publisher Dag Soderberg has caused a minor sensation with its sexy, pop-culture color photographs, and the editing-out of some of these photos for a supposedly more sensitive American readership. The appearance of Swedish super-model Victoria Silverstedt (as Eve?) in one of the photos reminds me of the almost sensuous depiction of Satan's first encounter with Eve in Milton's "Paradise Lost:"

   He sought them both, but wished his hap might find
   Eve separate; he wished, but not with hope
   Of what so seldom chanced; when to his wish,
   Beyond his hope, Eve separate he spies,
   Veiled in a cloud of fragrance, where she stood,
   Half spied, so thick the roses blushing round
   About her glowed, oft stooping to support
   Each flower of slender stalk, whose head, though gay
   Carnation, purple, azure, or specked with gold,
   Hung drooping unsustained; them she upstays
   Gently with myrtle band, mindless the while
   Herself, though fairest unsupported flower,
   From her best prop so far, and storm so nigh.
   … and in her look sums all delight:
   Such pleasure took the Serpent to behold
   This flowery plat, the sweet recess of Eve
   Thus early, thus alone: Her heavenly form
   Angelick, but more soft, and feminine,
   Her graceful innocence, her every air
   Of gesture, or least action, overawed
   His malice, and with rapine sweet bereaved
   His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought:
   That space the Evil-one abstracted stood
   From his own evil, and for the time remained
   Stupidly good; of enmity disarmed….

Now there's a picture for an illustrated Bible: Satan, gawking "stupidly" from the bushes at the jaw-dropping beauty of Eve as she stoops to support each tender flower. So beautiful and innocent that he almost -- almost -- repents of what he's about to do. As with David's discovery of Bathsheba (in 2 Samuel 11), it would earn an "R" rating in the movies.

I like to think I'm a sophisticated guy, but I suppose I have enough Lutheran modesty in me to wonder how graphic such illustrations ought to be. I just might have to get a hold of one of those Swedish Bibles to do a little more research....

1 comment:

Anna said...

Of course the librarian in me absolutely protest the idea censorship of books, especially as this version is obviously not intended for children. In my professional opinion, censoring items can lead to a slippery slope that ends with taking books out of libraries or even more extreme book burnings.
I guess it comes down to a question of what is the intention of this version? Because if we're completely honest about it the Bible (and especially the Old Testament) is a literary soap opera of sex, death, backstabbing, and religious intervention. In many ways it seems that this version is adding visuals with a nod to contemporary icons, obviously I can't say that this is all it is because I haven't seen it, BUT would we be so up in arms if Botticelli or Waterhouse had done it?